Sunday, 30 December 2012

Amanat's obituary

Amanat, 23, an ordinary Delhi girl who would ordinarily have remained unknown beyond her family and friends died on 29 Dec 2012 probably of septicaemia and multiple organ failure. She underwent major abdominal surgery in New Delhi, probably a total ileectomy and colectomy, followed by a spell of  intensive care before transfer to a tertiary unit for a last ditch attempt to save her life.

 In her last moments she was surrounded by all the high tech gadgetry of a world-class hospital in Singapore known for its track record in multi-organ transplant surgery. The hospital itself was surrounded by the usual media pack tracking and reporting, even sometimes making it up, every heart beat of the girl and every sob of her family. Back home in Delhi and elsewhere in India the news coverage of her plight, ever since she was found on a flyover beaten (we now know, to death) and raped, rose to a new crescendo.

In life she was content with the anonymity of an ordinary citizen. In death her coffin was met at the airport by the country’s prime minister and the leader of the ruling party. A surreal fame that she did not seek and could not possibly have desired but a status that the media pinned on her like a bravery medal on an unwilling conscript.  

Amanat was of course not the first victim of violence against women nor sadly will she be the last. In a country known for its poor record of equal rights for women, why her case rose to such prominence remains a question that many will ponder and few will adequately explain. But the fact is she did become a focal point for protests in New Delhi and across the country.

What would she have wanted to come out of all this? For her it was a personal tragedy of unimaginable horror, for her family the anguish has become deeper, for the country this was a crime that aroused a whole generation of young Indians demanding change. They would all have wanted a safer, fairer society where such crimes are rare, hopefully even unknown, and where, when they do occur, justice is swift but fair with regard for the due process of law. And yet the portents are not bright that meaningful change will emerge.  

Her alleged attackers have already been identified, tried and found guilty by the High Court of Television and Newspaper. Crowds of protesters were baying for a swift trial followed by capital punishment. Politicians too weighed in with their own demands for and promises of tougher laws and fast track courts. (They probably failed to spot the irony that many among them had more in common with Amanat’s attackers than the girl they appeared to be mourning). The country is a democracy and people usually get what they wish for if they ask loudly enough.

As a future doctor, Amanat would have recognised that prevention is better than cure, that prevention is hard work, takes longer, is less immediately gratifying but ultimately more satisfying since it delivers better results than the quick fix of swift and seemingly decisive action after the event. She of all people would have known this because she experienced firsthand the ultimate futility of high-tech medicine to fix the frailty of torn intestines and mangled viscera.

Applying these principles, she would have asked some searching and uncomfortable questions. Was she just tragically unlucky to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time to have fallen prey to a gang of psychopaths? Or was her’s a disturbingly extreme example of what happens when a whole society tolerates a callous disregard of the rights of women and girls? 

Why is the criminal justice system so inept that cases drag on for years, decades even? Are our judges trained, fair and impartial?   

Can the police be trusted? Are victims safe from the depredations of policemen drunk with the power they wield over ordinary citizens?   Do they have the education, training, and resources to do their job, free of political pressure? And are they accountable for their own actions and misdeeds?  

Are the politicians up to the job of reform? Can they – will they- accept that we are nothing if we cannot be a nation of laws?

Not until these questions are answered will Amanat rest in peace. Not until these questions are answered should any politician sleep easy at night. Not until these questions are answered should the protesters allow those in power to treat this as an isolated case that would be resolved once the accused are tried.

That would in all likelihood be Amanat’s prayer. All the fervent prayers of the protesters who gathered in Jantar Mantar for Amanat to pull through and survive went unanswered. But Amanat’s prayer need not go similarly unanswered if only because the answers for once lie in our hands.  

Amanat (not the young woman's real name), 23, died 29 Dec 2012. The events of the night of 16th december are here  with further commentary from Soutik Biswas